The Office Blend Blog

What You’re Feeling is Burnout

Kenan Reed @unsplash

I felt it was time to speak about burnout.

Considering the year that we have all muddled through, it can come as no surprise that many of us are feeling exhausted. For unknown reasons, I never thought to share my developing burnout saga. First let me say, the dynamic was hastened by the pressures of the pandemic — yet it is possible that the roots may have already been established. I’ve also realized, that if we fail to see the writing on the wall, burnout can take hold in a manner that can be difficult to shake. It is real. We need to act promptly. To protect ourselves. (See an overview of the research here.)

As a consultant, I’ve discussed burnout with many individuals over the years. I’ve seen burnout manifest during unpredictable organizational change initiatives, as well as industry peaks. It can occur because of one perpetually trying client or the full brunt of a dire economic downturn. But, no one is immune. We seem to experience burnout as individuals — so its particular course is also individual. This can throw us off the trail and possibly leave us unprepared.

Know that burnout will not look the same across contributors, and should be addressed when it is likely a factor. (See my targeted session here.)

Above all, we should be discussing the issue and sharing experiences. Personally, burnout manifested like a thunderstorm gathering courage in the distance. There were signs it was approaching. Pangs of apathy and avoidance. Yet, because that is alarming on many levels — particularly because in most cases (as was with mine) the work is our livelihood — we try to ignore its presence. We may have trained for years or others may depend upon us; there are so many reasons that we cannot simply pick up, check out or change course. As a rule, I believe we opt to compensate and press on.

We assume there is nothing to be done, as we cannot change the things we must (and in many cases previously loved) and should do.

However, there are costs to this strategy.

Engagement with our work wanes. Motivation plummets. As is the case now, we have also lived through a tumultuous time in history which has affected every breathing corner of our lives.

We cannot expect all of this this to steer clear from our work lives.

While we may not be able to walk away from our responsibilities, we can take the time to understand the winds within our own storm. This may offer clues that can lead to solutions. So, here are a few things to consider when approaching burnout.

Hopefully, the topics may alert you to something that can be addressed.

  • We have broken psychological agreements about work life with ourselves. In many cases, there is a psychological contract with ourselves, that we have breached. We may have briefly thought: “I’m extremely weary of this” or “I’m not as happy with this part of my career, as I used to be”, but we pressed on. The scales were tipping and we kept on going, without considering where that path might lead. The rewards were simply not keeping pace with the investment of time, trouble and emotion.
  • When to stop is never discussed. We are offered an abundance of advice about how to start something. Yet there is not nearly enough discussion about when and how (and why) we should slow down or step away. We conveniently forget that remaining productive over the long-haul requires balance & rest, even with the tasks that we love. We may not have had the strategies in place to achieve this.
  • We wait for a savior. It is unlikely that someone will approach you to say, “Stop what you are still doing well.” You must take on the responsibility of your own psychological resources. Monitor feelings of hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism. Pay attention if one has fallen precipitously.
  • Declare or wither. One pillar of core stability, is to embrace radical self-awareness regarding what you need to stay productive. We cannot always choose the roles, tasks, or people that are a part of our journey. However, if it is humanly possible to affect core elements before burnout sets in, do this. Declare the elements that are vital to your well-being as a contributor.
  • Acknowledge that living through history is an accelerator. As a child I used to try to imagine how others had lived through World Wars. What were they thinking? Could they go back to living normal lives, that would include joy or a sense of calm? I can only hypothesize that they would not want to return to the elements of their lives that were already worn or troublesome. They would want to grab life and live it to the fullest. That a clear purpose to live well, would dominate.

I do not have the answers — only more questions. However, acknowledging what we have lived through and how this affects our work is vital. Above all, know that our collective journeys are personal, and this requires a very personal solution.

Do you have a strategy to mitigate burnout? How has this helped you? Share it with this forum.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations a build stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post

Do Our Relationships with Social Media Say More Than We Think?

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

I seem to have developed the habit of personifying social media outlets.

That may sound a bit off. But trust me, it’s not the first time I’ve engaged in this strategy. As a consultant, I’ve always thought of organizations as having a distinct vibe or personality, separate from the clients that I meet. (Some are depressed. Others frenetic.) Over the years, I’ve developed a strong propensity to craft stories out of disjointed facts, observations and conversations. It may be a bad habit. Yet, it helps me makes sense of things at the start of a project, when there are one million details to consider.

This habit seems to have extended to social media. To be quite honest, I usually find Facebook tedious and bit needy. Instagram often feels fickle & hyped up on pretty places (which I truly enjoy, btw) & success-oriented quotes. LinkedIn nearly always feels focused & fair (I have more than my share of followers over there, so I am likely biased.). Twitter feels balanced on most days; a bit like my memory of my high school cafeteria at lunchtime, except for the realm of politics. You are clearly aware that all of the groups are present, but no one really cares if they hang out near you.

My assessment of a social media definitely impacts my willingness to enter into a relationship with them. My patience can be worn thin, just as I would feel when ready to leave a noisy party.

These days, I’m only willing to invest my time and trouble where I feel loosely accepted. I’ll scale back, if I have a clear and present sense that the algorithm is on a path to “ostracize” me. (I’m a proud sort.) I’ve also learned some hard lessons. When re-starting on Instagram, I re-shared a random photo of an old structure in London and the photographer reported me to the powers that be. This unfolded even though I had clearly attributed her, took the photo down immediately & tendered an apology. Turns out she was somewhat of a big deal over there. I explained that my articles are often shared without my direct permission, but if attributed I’m usually ok with it. But, alas this was her foul to call. The onus was on me.

Lesson learned: Don’t share great photos on Instagram? Well, I now know that Instagram is a business for many — and I whole-hardheartedly respect that.

If a coaching client were to ask me about this topic, I know how I would respond: Spend time where you feel uplifted. If something feels wrong, stay away. Build your personal brand where you feel aligned with the “vibe” & you can express yourself.

By now, you’re likely getting the sense that my relationships with social media bear a resemblance a Rorschach assessment. I concur. It is entirely possible that social media has re-ignited my teenage insecurities & I am projecting.

On the other hand, it may simply be a lack of stimulation during the marathon that is this pandemic.

I’m unsure.

You make the call.

Have you ever personified social media?

Share your experiences.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

First Jobs, Foundations & the Movies

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Our early experiences with work are foundational. We tend to write these jobs off as our careers progress, likely because of our age or the role. Yet, whether these occurred at 16 or 22, with a second look — there is always more there than meets the eye. While these roles may not correlate with what we do down the line, they offer opportunities to learn about people, expectations & environments. When I work with developing leaders, history is never ignored & always respected. The Core Intensive begins with exercises that explore the past, and first jobs (along with first bosses) — are often a common discussion topic. For better or worse, these experiences shape us.

The moment I turned 16, my father inquired about where I intended to work.

To be quite honest, this came completely out of the blue. We hadn’t really discussed work in any concrete fashion until that moment. We did have frequent conversations about school work, most often chemistry and my assessment that I didn’t have the brain power to pass the course (he was having none of that). Yet, the expression on his face as he posed the question, let me know that the conversation was a serious one. I needed to find a job — and pronto.

Well, I did find that job.

Luckily, a friend let me know that the floor manager of a large, local movie theater was looking for recommendations to fill a role. It was my first job interview. Mrs. Killeen was an impressive individual, apart from her title & responsibilities — as I could feel her strength and experience during the interview. She informed me of duties; ensuring that all patrons had a ticket, helping them to their seats if necessary, keeping an eye on theater doors, aisles. She also explained that from the moment my employment started I was a part of a team, a representative of that business and a part of the theater workers union. (She also explained that my parents could come anytime “on the house”. I can recall how she would greet them like visiting diplomats, letting them pass through the velvet ropes.)

At 16 of course, the importance of all of this landed completely over my head.

The job included long hours on your feet and knowing your way around a broom & dustpan. In between Saturday matinées, you spent a great deal of time picking up popcorn containers and drink cups. Saturday evenings were often sold out and busy beyond belief. I felt sorry for my co-workers in the ticket booth & behind the refreshment counter. When a new blockbuster was released, it was a absolute madhouse. We would often have to shift patrons to make room for all ticket holders in a sold-out house, which had to be carried out with respect and some measure of authority. As you can imagine, we took the brunt of complaints. (That never got easier.)

Yet — the experience held glorious moments.

We would of course, see the same movie scores of times. To help the time pass, we would memorize the dialogue and take on the roles at the back of the theater. When we screened a comedy, I never tired of hearing a packed Saturday night crowd roaring in laughter. (Sometimes people were nearly rolling in the aisles.) That fed my soul somehow and I’ll never forget how that looked & felt. (Comedies remain my favorite genre.)

I learned much in that building, about the heart of work & how bringing a bit of joy to people’s lives is a reward in itself. When I did well, I was recognized. When I made mistakes, I was put on the right track. I formed strong bonds with colleagues. When I went off to college, I would come back to work on breaks. It was a solid place to come back to. It felt like home.

Of course, with time, everything ends. I recall hearing that Mrs. Killeen had retired.

The building no longer functions as a theater.

But, as I pass it on Orchard Lake road — my mind is alive with thoughts of Saturday nights, spilled popcorn and laughter.

What was your first work experience? What did you take away from it?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Time, Tide & Usefulness

So, as the fates would have it, the pandemic is not a sprint — but a grueling marathon. Work (for some of us) is still present, although likely in some morphed form. The pace or tenor may have been revised. Colleagues may have scattered. Yet hopefully, your heart, passion and loyalty are still present, although possibly bruised and battered.

A lot has happened. Every day there is more to digest.

Yet fall has still arrived. The days are still becoming shorter (at least here in Michigan) and my garden is still quickly fading. The tide still returns. Soon winter will come. Mother nature hasn’t bothered to blink an eye.

What are we to make of all of it? What comes next?

As as a young college student (pre-major), I drafted a rather depressing, dream-based short story named “The Far Side”. It mused of a dystopian world, where those with a useful profession were transported in the dead of night to an undisclosed location, in an effort to save the world (from itself). Some sort of traumatic event had already occurred — and while traveling through seemingly endless darkness and barren landscapes, there was a palpable sadness among the passengers. Yet, at the same time a resolute calm. A firm sense of determination. All I knew at that moment, was the aching pain of becoming separated from my family. I was unsure of their fate and on which side of the sorting algorithm had I fallen. Was I deemed useful?

At the time, I was a struggling college student on many levels. My parents had just divorced, Microeconomics was proving a relentless challenge and my tiny, insular world seemed to be collapsing. But, I had an inner sense that training to do something useful, was one key to getting past my present.

Feeling useful is important to all of us. It is a vital part of our work life core, especially when things are literally going sideways. Whether we are blessed with fame, wealth or acclaim really does not matter. Striving to be useful — is something of note that we can all achieve.

What matters is that we apply our training, our gifts, empathy and strengths.

That we create a small, useful ripple, in this vast ocean of a world.

Not simply for the betterment of others, or for the world — but for ourselves.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Here’s How to Build a Stronger, More Stable Organizational Culture

alex-wong-l5Tzv1alcps-unsplash

We would all like to build a strong, stable organizational culture. Yet, we often underestimate the enormity of the challenge to do so. I’ve spent years as a consultant, diagnosing organizational issues — and if I have learned one cogent lesson it is this: It is always difficult to face what has gone wrong.

In a sense, we dance around the issues. We build compensatory mechanisms to manage the fallout. We make excuses.

In the end, we often treat the entire situation like a spoiled child that we would rather not upset. Yet, to truly build a stronger organization — we must honestly examine and address the elements that have contributed to its current state. (In my practice, I often utilize the philosophy of Core Stability to support the exploration phase of a client relationship. See a definition below.)

Organizational Core Stability: A confluence of elements including, but not limited to: 1) clarity surrounding the development/communication of mission, goals, strategy and expressed values, 2) clear governance, 3) alignment of resource priorities, 4) shared performance metrics.

No argument here, facing the music can be a painful process. There can be discussions of blame, of thwarted efforts to improve, of unrelenting, stubborn obstacles. However, examining the discord — note by note — is the only way to move forward. (I’ve found that my role is just as much about cushioning the blow, as it is diagnostic.)

If your organization has begun this process, take heart — and remember the following:

1. No one sets out to build a sick culture. I’m going to absolve everyone of their guilt in the name of forward progress. Horrible cultures seem to take on  a life of their own. Time, growth, and the wrong metrics — push organizations further down the wrong path — somewhat like a bully that is intent to steal your lunch money. The resulting condition can serve as a devastating blow, yet no one wanted it to happen.

2. Letting go of blame can be liberating. When we let go of blame, of silos and functional turf, we can get to the business of changing things. Stabilizing the organization is the first step on the road the rehabilitation. Internal organizational stability requires that you examine topics such as governance, decision-making, resources and how you treat your people. Rebuilding your culture starts from the nucleus and moves outward. (Moreover, “dark-side” elements, such as narratives that over-ride healthy habits, must be unearthed and quickly addressed.)

3. Start small and behave differently. The proof is in the pudding as they say — and the best way to improve a sick culture is for it to behave differently. If you manage a team or department, make no mistake, it is a living, breathing micro culture. Know that if observed behaviors do not change in line with a declared change, there is little hope of rehabilitation. The culture will continue to decline and the organization will lose both people and opportunities.

Change is often about forgiveness.
About re-focusing toward the future and leaving painful narratives behind.
In a sense, this must be extended to the larger organization as well.

Allow it to move on.

Have you ever been involved in an effort to change an unhealthy culture? Was it successful? What were the greatest challenges?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her training series The Core — helps people & organizations build a stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Where We Are Now With Work

macbook pro on brown wooden table
Photo by Eli Sommer on Pexels.com

There is nothing so stable as change. – Bob Dylan

I’ve not felt like writing in weeks. I have 45 open drafts. That’s a record (even for me).

There is a malaise that meets me at my desk on many mornings. I would characterize this as a lack of energy. A bit of resistance to do the work I normally love.  (Indeed, I am grateful to still have a role to occupy my mind.) I will hypothesize that the pace of both challenge and change in our world, has finally caught up with me.

Of course, none of us has all of the answers. We can only bring our collected knowledge and best intentions to forge ahead.

As I usually do, I’ve talked to others about their work as well — how it has changed (for better and worse), how it will remain so for some time, how we must adapt. What I’ve learned, is that we are entering a new phase of work life, “post” the arrival of Covid. The changes we are going through come with an element of loss and we should open to speak about all of it.

We are each affected differently, that goes without saying. But, as aptly expressed in this HBR article: “If we can name it, we can manage it.” I’ll start. You can join in the comments section if you wish.

I am quickly realizing that this crisis isn’t a sprint. It is a marathon. We are in this for the long-haul. Some of the elements of work life that once were — may never return. Some of the changes will be useful. Other changes will likely make us feel oddly out of sync. (We seem to be moving through a crash course in “digital transformation,” in real-time.)

I also know that we should draw from our foundation, our built work life core — to help us along. We must acknowledge what we can bring with us on this journey. More specifically — that we can bring along the good, as well as the challenging. (A strong nod to positive psychology here.) Bolstering our resolve with the positive, is vital. This may be a useful strategy in our arsenal to combat all of the work life twists and turns, yet to come.

What we’ve built.

We bring along the elements of our work lives that we have nurtured. The strong teams. The great colleagues. The challenge of the work. The healthy cultural landscapes.

These elements will help us adapt, help us face the changes with resilience.

Of course, when the dust settles we’ll have decide if we still fit — and at least assess where we find ourselves within our current organization. The outcomes of which will not be easy to predict. It is hard to know what choices (good or bad) an organization will make. What choices you must make. Yet, I do know that you should pause to re-evaluate constructs such as the psychological contract. Discuss it openly. Declare what you need to stay engaged and healthy. Managers should have an open and honest conversation with each one of their employees to take stock.

Ultimately, our world of work is now characterized by change.

To keep pace — look to your core.

Lean in to the great things you have built.

Please Note: The articles on this site are the intellectual property of the author — and cannot be used commercially without expressed written consent.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist & speaker, who explores the value of core stability to empower work & career. Her course, The Core Masterclass teach managers how to build core stability for themselves and their team.

Empathy Could Be Your Next Career Super Power

7A90A63C-ABA4-406F-BF5F-1A77B89CB722
Photo: @jamieinemo at Instagram

empathy
noun

em·​pa·​thy | \ ˈem-pə-thē\

Definition of empathy
1 : the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

I’m sure you can think of a heated or stressful work life situation, where you felt that a perfect comeback was in order. A precise (possibly biting) response that might preclude any future discussion or debate. The perfect word salad, to prove your point and end any confusion concerning who was in the right.

However, I’d like to pitch a radical technique that I often discuss with coaching clients. A technique that could change the tenor of the moment. A technique that might offer an alternative avenue to help you through a frustrating situation.

So — here it is.

Double-down on empathy. The ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and possibly walk in their world for just a moment. Empathy is an often undervalued work life strategy for a number of reasons. This may be pride-based. Ego-based. Habit-based.

Here are a few thoughts about empathy — and how we might make a habit of maximizing its potential.

  • The gut response. Our “fight or flight” reflex often stops us from applying empathy. We might anger quickly or have little patience to move beyond the initial emotional hurdle. In these cases, a lack of empathy might operate as a means of protection.
  • We right empathy off. I challenge you to pick a work life scenario (if it is recurring, even better) that you would not normally apply empathy. Now try it on. Is there a colleague that you interact with regularly, that you just can’t seem to tolerate? Is there a client you find particularly grating? These could be opportunities to see issues from a very different perspective.
  • Finding empathetic inspiration. We often undervalue our own potential for empathy. Think of situations where you have felt true empathy for someone else at work — and remind yourself that this emotion lives within you. Moreover, think of situations where you would have personally benefited from empathy. How might another have behaved to make you feel supported? Now take that knowledge and apply it.
  • Be “empathy” accountable. With any behavioral change, you should monitor progress. This demands that you reflect on what you have been doing that is different. Be sure to note when you’ve infused more empathy within your daily work life. Record what you said and did. How did this affect others? How did the change make you feel?

Infusing empathy into work life, likely has benefits that we simply cannot measure. Have you noticed this dynamic? Share your experiences in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who explores the value of core stability to empower work & career. She helps people & teams build a stronger work life foundation through The Core Masterclass. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, she has been featured at the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo and The Huffington Post.

Rituals, Walking Around the Block & the War of the Roses

beautiful bloom blooming blossom
Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

Rituals are the formulas by which harmony is restored. – Terry Tempest Williams

Notes

We planted four clump, yellow rose bushes in our backyard garden last summer. They are situated in an area where for some odd reason, everything seems to perish. I have a number of concocted theories as to why this continues to happen. Our home is well over 70 years old and from what I discern from original plans, a garage once stood near that area. Maybe this contributes somehow. Or there is possibly too much sun. Too little water. Or our 100 pound German Shepard stomps over the plantings when chasing her tennis ball.

I’ve just surveyed the situation. It’s not looking all that hopeful.

The point is not the roses, but that the ritual of the garden occupies my mind in a manner that frees me for a stretch of time. Small rituals makes us more comfortable, more centered — even when a sense of instability may exist all around us. For you, this may mean walking around the block after dinner, game night, sitting on your balcony in the morning or a quiet cup of coffee before you write a report. You could call these routines, but somehow these idiosyncratic actions hold more value than that label would imply.

Whatever that ritual is, no matter how small it may seem — it matters. Small rituals help define who we are as individuals. They help align who we are with our surroundings. I feel they likely make us better contributors, as well.

When we get back to our desks, the rest will still be there.

But for that moment, I’m rooting for the roses.

Strategy: Rituals

  • Do you have a small ritual that helps you remain productive right now?
  • Do you feel rituals have become more important during this crisis?
  • Does your organization or team have a ritual that helps them along?

Rose update: We’ve lost one. The others are hanging on. (It’s quite hot and dry here at the moment.)

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who explores the value of core stability to empower work & career. She helps people & teams build a stronger work life foundation through The Core Masterclass. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, she has been featured at the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo and The Huffington Post.

How Work Life Minimalism Can Lead to Abundance

green plant on white wooden table
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

I’ve become painfully protective of my morning ritual. If I’m up early enough, I can log in an hour’s worth of reading & writing before anyone invades my cocoon. There is a designated YouTube playlist bookmarked to avoid any aberrant selections. My notebook is handy. I filter in the birds — and filter out the news.

It’s my own thing. It is specific and highly idiosyncratic.

Your journey through the current pandemic is a personal one. In a sense, we have all been thrown head first into the annals of history — and left to our own devices. Each day can be a challenge. Each moment unsettling. Yet, there have been increased moments of clarity. You may have noticed them.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned over the last months it is this: Abundance isn’t really about more. It is not about doing more — or achieving more — or earning more. It is about identifying the moments that bring you more. The moments that expand your world. That fuel you. That become your work life fire.

(Less noise, more signal perhaps?)

Finding more of these moments is the priority. I’ve learned that fewer, in many cases is better, and we can apply minimalism to our work lives. With that — here are a few common work life elements that could be recast with this strategy in mind:

  • Your Network. The number of people with whom we “connect” has grown precipitously over the last decade. While these so called networks may be expansive, they usually have “inspiration” gaps. Take a closer look at your network. Are there individuals that help you feel creative or energized? Someone you can riff with about the state of your industry? You cannot give back to the world — if the fuel is not present.
  • Your Goals. How we view goals, has been a deep concern of mine for some time. Most specifically, their often inelastic nature. We tend to collect goals over time, but fail to consider which goals actually serve us. This can cloud our view and dampen focus. In my course, we spend a fair amount of time reflecting on the goals that live in our heads, but fail to inspire or direct us. Try not to fall into the “crowded” trap.
  • Maintenance. Self-care is a worthy goal. Yet, I’ve seen it become an obsessive chore rather than a dynamic to truly restore ourselves. Integrating self-care options within our daily lives doesn’t need to be a drawn out or elaborate process. Simple solutions, such as jotting down thought & ideas in a notebook to clear your mind or a daily walk, are worthy solutions that have been utilized for centuries.

Do you capture abundance with less? Share your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who explores the value of core stability to empower work & career. She helps people & teams build a stronger work life foundation through The Core Masterclass and Work Life 101. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, she has been featured at the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo and The Huffington Post.

 

5 Unexpected Things I’ve Learned About People, Work & Organizations

99FC6C26-C42E-4416-B9E0-6BA52860649B
Photo: @jamieinemo at Instagram

What we need to know about our line of work, can never be conveyed completely in a classroom setting.

Scores of valuable lessons are learned through our experiences. In some cases, they emerge as topic gaps. For example, a course entitled “consulting for success” was not a part of my curriculum. (It should have been.) In other cases, the guidance is shared, but delivered far too early — as we require a certain breadth of experience to comprehend its importance. (Only maturity brings this.)

Ultimately, we discover many of these vital lessons on our own.

On some occasions, just in the nick of time. On other occasions, that timing is not as fortunate.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned with time:

  1. No matter how driven or successful — work cannot be corralled into a neat, confined space.
    Early in my career, I was caught in an elevator with the most senior level employee in my department. (Her office was just a stone’s throw from mine and I would only see her breezing to and from meetings.) Normally stoic, on this particular day she was uncharacteristically open, “In this organization you need to learn to leave your personal life at the door. Remember that, Marla.”, as she huffed out of the elevator. As the doors closed, I was so struck by her admission that I forgot to exit. I realized years on, that work affects us broadly — because of its central importance in the operation of our everyday lives. Work-life balance is really more of an integration challenge. Moreover, when an organization ignores this fact, undo pressure and stress often develop. Everyone loses, as she likely felt in that moment.
  2. Never make assumptions about people how people feel about their work.
    I left school believing that my training and reasoning skills, could help me solve most of the encountered work life problems. However, that belief was inherently flawed. Over time, I came to realize that the true nature of someone else’s experience, isn’t obvious. The only way to gain access and understand that perspective, is to develop a trusting relationship and inquire. True feelings and dynamics are often shrouded — and leading with curiosity is vital.
  3. Growing pains aren’t just for kids. They apply to work life as well.
    My father was a family physician, so I was well versed concerning the pain experienced as tendons stretch to accommodate bone growth. I’ve also realized that organizations and careers paths, suffer from a similar dynamic. As individuals & organizations approach important inflection points, they must stretch to meet the challenge. This can become quite uncomfortable. My role is to help them through it.
  4. Goals which once motivated us, can also trip us up.
    If you’ve ever been stuck trying to force your way forward, you may have experienced this issue. Sometimes the goals that we establish for ourselves and seek, actually begin to hold us back. This happens when we see things one way — and cannot budge to see an alternative path. In some cases, it may be time to let the goal go.
  5. Authenticity isn’t always a good thing.
    I’ve worked with more than one individual, whose authentic “brand” or work style, literally stood in the way of progress. I’m not referring to awful people, who fail to possess concern for their employees or colleagues. I’m speaking of talented, kind individuals who have a working style or flow, that happens to affect others adversely. When made aware of how their quirks derailed others, they are usually horrified. (Know yourself and how you work best. But, also build awareness of how that might impacts others. If you aren’t completely sure — ask.)

Work life is a journey.

If approached with the right mindset, it is also a non-stop learning experience.

What have you learned about work life that was unexpected? Share in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.